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Players return to stadium

CHARLOTTE - In the wake of the labor agreement reached Monday that opened Bank of America Stadium to players Tuesday, many said they felt like a weight had been lifted off them.

The heavy lifting, however, is just beginning.

"I kind of forgot how heavy this was," defensive end Eric Norwood said as he exited the stadium with a thick defensive playbook and a thinner special teams playbook in hand. "I've got to get a bigger backpack."

But Norwood wasn't complaining, nor were any of the other 20-some players who entered the facility in the first couple of hours after the gates opened to them at 10 a.m.


The first five arrivals, a group that included running back Jonathan Stewart and offensive lineman Mackenzy Bernadeau, couldn't wait another minute.

"Doors opened at 10. We were here at 9:58, waiting," Bernadeau said. "It's good to be back and see so many familiar faces and to get back to the facility. It feels good."

No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton and fellow quarterbacks Jimmy Clausen and Matt Moore weren't far behind. They were followed in short order by linebacker Thomas Davis, whose wait for football extends well beyond the length of the work stoppage.

Davis hasn't fully participated in a training camp or in-season practice since November of 2009, when he suffered the first of two serious knee injuries. Davis was under the impression last season that he would be a free agent in 2011, but he actually has one year left on his contract because he spent all of 2010 on the Physically Unable to Perform list.


"It's a complicated situation. I had a five-year rookie contract and now I'm going into my seventh year," said Davis, who added he hopes to sign long-term with the Panthers regardless of his contract status. "I'm confident from having spoken to Mr. (Jerry) Richardson and (general manager) Marty (Hurney) before the lockout started that we're going to get something done.

"It's going to be great having everybody back together and developing that camaraderie that we need to get this season going the right way."

Davis is in a unique situation, yet he's not alone when it comes to feeling both a sense of relief and uncertainty. Moore, for example, is among 17 Panthers who will become unrestricted free agents Friday at 6 p.m. ET.

Moore is glad the work stoppage is over so that he can begin to figure out his football fate, but he wasn't as impatient for a resolution as some of his colleagues. That's because on April 1, his wife gave birth to the couple's first child, Aubrey.

"I've been hanging out with her. The timing couldn't be better for that," Moore said. "Otherwise, I've been working out, getting my shoulder right. It's been a little different but productive."

From veterans to rookies under contract, each of the players that arrived at the stadium Tuesday has a different story.

In some ways, though, it's the same story.

"It's like Christmas," wide receiver Charly Martin said. "We all play this game because we love it, especially a guy like me who is blessed to be here. I enjoy every day that I get to be in the NFL.

"We're all blessed to do this - owners and players - so I think we should all be excited."


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